Is It Okay to Spoil Your Cat?

Spoiling your cat has risen to the level of art. If you didn't know your history, you may even think the cat has entered a golden era. But catering to our cats' every whim has only gained strength in the last several years.

Until recently, "spoiling" was limited to milk and real tuna on occasion, and perhaps letting your cat sleep with you in bed. The cat's golden age may well have been in ancient Egypt, where cats were held in such high regard that they were worshipped.

The cat goddess Bastet – the body of a woman and the head of a cat – was one of the most revered of the Egyptian gods. She was associated with fertility, motherhood, grace and beauty.

Many years later, the Prophet Mohammed was said to have cut a hole in his robe rather than wake a cat asleep on it.

Today, we're working hard to emulate the cat's exalted status of yore. Monogrammed kitty pillows and hand-made ceramic, homemade treats, innumerable toys, videos of mice and birds, even birthday and holiday parties – all designed to make our cats' lives cushier.

But how much is too much? Well, that depends on how you define "spoiling." This may be hard to accept, but most of what people consider "spoiling" – expensive Waterford crystal food dishes for instance – goes right over your cat's head. That Gucci harness? Your cat just sees a harness, which she probably hates no matter what name is on the label. And a $300 cat carrier is still just a cat carrier, to your feline.

Cats that are groomed may also be considered pampered or spoiled. But good grooming is a health matter, not just high fashion. It doesn't matter whether you spend $30 on a basic groom and nail trim, or $150 on the latest cool-cat cut as long as it's done properly. Regular veterinary visits are also just plain common sense.

But is your cat dining on $80-an-ounce caviar? Now, that's spoiling. So is giving into your cat's crying whenever she wants something you're eating. Feline obesity is a very serious health problem, especially for older cats, and it's harder to get your cat to change habits later in life. The best way to combat obesity is to feed your cat high-quality cat food formulated for his or her stage of life. Treats can be given, but only those made for cats and on your terms, not hers.

Giving into your cat's appetite has another effect: it promotes finicky behavior. Your cat will turn her nose up at food she should eat because she knows she'll get something better (from her point of view) by waiting you out.

As your cat's "parent" or guardian, it's your responsibility to keep your cat healthy by feeding appropriate food items, and resisting those amber or green eyes, beseeching you for a piece of chicken.

Who Is the Alpha Cat?

Besides food, your cat also needs love and attention, but is it possible to give too much love? The answer is, of course, no, but lavishing attention has been known to cause behavior problems.

Like dogs, cats have a hierarchy. In other words, your household will have an "alpha" cat, though the structure and how it functions is different from that of dogs. Alpha cats refuse to be led, take charge in every situation, eat what and when they want, demand that doors be opened for them, even nip at your toes to wake you up to serve their needs. They will also approach you for some affection, and then bite your hand to let you know they've had enough.

The name for this behavior is "alpha cat syndrome." The cause is not necessarily your attention, but it can reinforce the behavior. If your cat is proving to be too disruptive, you may need to learn how to modify the behavior in the story The Alpha Cat Syndrome.

To make a long story short, it is fine to spoil your cat – that's what they are there for – but not at the expense of her health or your sanity.